United and Chase Working Together to Make Improvements to Partnership

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J.P. Morgan Chase and United appear to be working to change up some things related to their co-brand credit card partnership.

The information is a bit conflicting right now. Per the WSJ, (soft paywall), J.P. Morgan Chase and United are set to begin new negotiations for their existing co-branded credit card relationship (which has spanned three decades). However, according to Bloomberg, “Chase and United are not renegotiating the contract,” JPMorgan spokeswoman Patricia Wexler says in an emailed statement. “This is a solid, long standing relationship, and we’re working together to find new ways to make sure our products and services are competitive and the partnership continues to grow.”

It sounds a bit like a semantics game, but I think it’s clear that there are some real efforts that are going to be made in the future that could lead to changes to the current United co-branded credit cards issued by Chase.

A complicated time for United

The issue of improving these cards is a bit complex right now because Chase cards like the Sapphire Reserve have proven to be so popular that they may have lessened the bargaining power for United. People might be more interested in jumping on a Sapphire than a United card. At the same time, United is struggling to compete with deals made by other airlines like American, so there’s pressure mounting.

With those issues in mind, it is interesting to think about how United/Chase could improve upon their co-branded credit cards. Currently, there are three co-branded United cards: 1) The MileagePlus Explorer Card,  2) The MileagePlus Explorer Business Card and 3) the premium United Club Card.

The lower annual fee Explorer cards already offer some pretty stout perks, in my opinion. For example, the MileagePlus Explorer Card comes around with a 50K to 70K offer for many individuals and that’s one of the strongest sign-up bonuses offered for a co-branded credit card. They also provide perks like annual passes to United Club lounges and all of the status-like perks found from many other airline cards, such as priority boarding, security, and free baggage (even for international flights though you have to use your card for the free bags).

One of the biggest perks of the MileagePlus Explorer Card is that it offers increased award availability, which is a unique and at times extremely valuable perk. And don’t forget that it also provides primary rental car insurance. So, overall I actually already think the MileagePlus Explorer Card is one of the better airline cards if regularly fly on United.

What could United do to make their cards better?

The way I see it United could entertain the following options:

Higher sign-up bonuses

United could offer their higher sign-up bonuses of 60K to 70K more often. Over the past year, American has amped up their sign-up bonus game with both Barclaycard and Citi. Amex regularly offers high 60K and 70K bonuses for their Delta cards but I wouldn’t put those sign-up bonuses on par with the former two given the value of SkyMiles. Chase already introduced a better sign-up bonus for the Club Card so these cards, so this might be a point of emphasis going forward.

Points rebate

United could offer a rebate on award redemptions like the American Airlines co-branded credit cards. With those cards, you receive 10% back up to 10,000 miles. I really enjoy and value the rebates, but I’m not sure that kind of perk is as attention-grabbing as some others.

Bonus earning

United could offer better bonus earning potential. As of right now, it’s almost always more lucrative to put spend on a Sapphire card that earns 2X or 3X on dining or travel than to put spend on a United card. (The Explorer cards only earn 2X on United purchases and 1X on everything else). Even the Club card at best earns 1.5X on purchases which is on par with the Chase Freedom Unlimited.

The other legacy carriers offer the same earning rates of 1X on normal purchases and 2X on their airlines, so United could stand out in a big way if they offered something more lucrative. Still, at best I think they could realistically only match the Sapphire Preferred 2X or Freedom Unlimited 1.5X but that would still present them the issue of having customers more interested in Chase cards like the Reserve than United co-branded cards for bonus spend.

5/24?

No 5/24. Many would love to see the 5/24 restrictions lifted for these cards as a result of the new negotiations (or whatever they want to call them) but I don’t see that happening. I can’t see how allowing approvals from those of us over 5/24 would be the remedy for concerns over profitability, though it would be fantastic to see that happen.

Final word

It will be interesting to watch and see what kind of new development come around as United and Chase work to improve their partnership. United is feeling the heat from the competition and with extremely lucrative cards like the Sapphire Reserve being offered that can earn points transferred to United, it’s going to be a tough battle for United.

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